While the 1980 team had the celebrated "Miracle on Ice" and the 1960 US team had the "Forgotten Miracle", the 1972 team could be called the "completely overlooked miracle." The U.S. team was expected to finish 5th behind the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Finland. The Soviet and Czech teams were especially powerful as there was no distinction between amateurs and pros in communist countries; these teams were made up of seasoned professionals and were ranked 1 & 2 in the world. Valeri Kharlamov of the Soviet Union was considered one of the world's best players and experts agree he would have been a star in the NHL. The same can be said for Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. In fact, this was basically the same Soviet Team that played a Canadian team composed of NHL All Stars in the 1972 Summit Series that Canada narrowly won, 4-3-1.
After qualifying for Group A by beating Switzerland 5-3, the U.S. lost as expected to Sweden, 5-1. Then they pulled off the upset of the tournament when they beat Czechoslovakia, 5-1. This surprising result was nearly as astonishing as the wins over the Soviets in 1960 and 1980. After losing as expected to the Soviet Union, the young Americans upset Finland. In the final games of the competition, the U.S. beat Poland while Finland beat Sweden and the Soviets beat the Czechs (in the game that decided the gold medal); those results boosted the U.S. from 4th to 2nd for a silver medal that was nearly as miraculous as the 1960 and 1980 gold medals.
Fourteen nations qualified, but East Germany, Romania and France all chose not to travel for primarily financial reasons. The remaining eleven nations were seeded according to their placement in the 1971 World Championships with first place (USSR) and the five winners to play in Group A to for 1st-6th places. The five losers played in Group B for 7th-11th places. 1971 ranking appears in parentheses.